This week's Take It or Leave It challenge is one I've been putting off all year long: removing added sugars from my diet. I like to think that I eat considerably less sugar than the staggering 57 pounds an average American consumes in a year. (That's 17 teaspoons every day, if you're interested.) But honestly, I'm probably just sneaky about it. I'm not a soda drinker, but I do have a sweet tooth and have been known to eat dessert after breakfast. And occasionally for breakfast.
Every week this year, I've had an excuse not to make it the no-sugar week. I was busy or tired or on vacation or Valentine's Day/Easter/Halloween was coming, or whatever. The closest I came was my week without chocolate. (And because of my procrastination and poor planning, I've now temporarily given up chocolate twice this year.) But with the year winding down and December 25th approaching, my options were limited. Even I'm not masochist enough to try cut out sugar on Christmas.
My ground rule was no added sugar of any kind, and boy does sugar use a lot of aliases. According to the University of California San Francisco SugarScience team, dietary sugar is known by at least 61 different names--including maltodextrin, which is in almost everything. I also swore off "natural" substitutes such as honey and maple syrup.
Fruit was a little trickier. I don't drink fruit juice as a rule, and I decided that a couple of pieces of whole fruit a day was completely acceptable. Dates, though? They're relatively high in fiber and potassium, but they're also basically made of sugar. In the end, I let them stay, in very limited quantities.
I discovered that cutting out foods that taste sweet doesn't come close to eliminating added sugars. Even plain Rice Chex have both sugar and molasses in them. I found sugar in salty chips and spice blends, in spicy salsas and hot sauces. In bread. In frozen fruit bars that at first glance look like they're made of only fruit.
So, no shocker here, I didn't love this week. I was acutely aware that everywhere I went, I was surrounded by treats (and Christmas music) on all sides. But, I made it. (Almost. I confess I did eat sushi once, and I know sushi rice is cooked with sugar.) I probably wouldn't have survived, though, without stevia in my tea and my half a Larabar per day.
This was never going to be a Take It, but it didn't hurt to become more conscious of my sugar consumption, especially during sugarplum (and candy cane, fudge, cookie, marshmallow Santa, and, yes, even fruitcake) season.
Hope your pre-holiday week is merry and bright, with a bit of chocolate thrown in for good measure!